Chapter VI is a new horizon in Lumen Gentium, and it treats religious life in the Church.
Let’s read first that aspects of religious life are divinely ordained, church-approved and regulated, and that the diversity to which they give rise is a good thing:
The evangelical counsels of chastity dedicated to God, poverty and obedience are based upon the words and examples of the Lord. They were further commanded by the apostles and Fathers of the Church, as well as by the doctors and pastors of souls. The counsels are a divine gift, which the Church received from its Lord and which it always safeguards with the help of His grace. Church authority has the duty, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, of interpreting these evangelical counsels, of regulating their practice and finally to build on them stable forms of living. Thus it has come about, that, as if on a tree which has grown in the field of the Lord, various forms of solidarity and community life, as well as various religious families have branched out in a marvelous and multiple way from this divinely given seed. Such a multiple and miraculous growth augments both the progress of the members of these various religious families themselves and the welfare of the entire Body of Christ.(Cfr. Rosweydus, Viqae Patrum, Antwerpiae 1628. Apophtegmata Patrum: PG 65. Palladius, Historia Lausiaca: PG 34, 995 ss.; ed. C. Butler, Cambridge 1898 (1904). Pius XI, Const. Apost. Umbratilem, 8 iul. 1924: AAS 16 (1924) pp. 386-387. Pius XII, Alloc. Nous sommes heureux, 11 apr.1958: AAS 50 (1958) p. 283.)
What is the great value religious orders provide? Stability and a “proven” path to holiness:
These religious families give their members the support of a more firm stability in their way of life and a proven doctrine of acquiring perfection. They further offer their members the support of fraternal association in the militia of Christ and of liberty strengthened by obedience. Thus these religious are able to tranquilly fulfill and faithfully observe their religious profession and so spiritually rejoicing make progress on the road of charity.(Paulus VI, Alloc. Magno gaudio, 23 maii 1964: AAS 56 (1964) p. 566.)
Vatican II wants to be clear about where religious life fits into the big picture. Don’t think of them as part of the hierarchy; this is a divine call that transcends the petty considerations of clergy and laity:
From the point of view of the divine and hierarchical structure of the Church, the religious state of life is not an intermediate state between the clerical and lay states. But, rather, the faithful of Christ are called by God from both these states of life so that they might enjoy this particular gift in the life of the Church and thus each in one’s own way, may be of some advantage to the salvific mission of the Church.(Cfr. Cod. Iur. Can., c. 487 et 488, 40. Pius XII, Alloc. Annus sacer, 8 dec. 1950, AAS 43 (1951) p. 27 s. Pius XII, Cons. Apost. Provida Mater, 2 Febr. 1947: AAS 39 (1947) p. 120 ss.)
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